Women in Charge

Megan Markle, pictured in Belfast on Friday, is a United Nations women’s advocate. Picture by Matt Bohill
Roseann Kelly

THIS week I attended a presentation on bold leadership and couldn't help but be inspired by the confidence displayed by the keynote speaker and those attending. Anne Dargan's seminar revolved around the ability to ‘dream, believe and engage' and her presentation struck me for both its simplicity of message and impact on the listening audience. The second and third strands of her three-pronged approach are often the aspects that we all fall down on when looking to lead in business. Everyone dreams – of course they do. But how many really believe that their leadership dreams are attainable and how many are willing to engage with the people who could make them possible? Women being in charge is not only a positive aesthetic for society and the combatting of gender norms, but creating space for female leadership is proven to reap rewards for those willing to encourage and promote it as part of their business ethos.

A report in 2016 by Credit Suisse found, that when looking at over 3,000 global businesses, women held just 14.7 per cent of board seats: a number dwarfed when compared to the 40 per cent of women who are present in the global workplace. Though the number has increased by over 54 per cent since 2010 women are consistently under-represented in the higher echelons of business hierarchies. Part of the change in that phenomenon is, of course, legislative – where quotas have encouraged businesses to create the space to allow more women to jump through the traditional glass ceilings and though this aspect of the progression is noteworthy – it is the shift in opinion from business leaders to actively encourage women in leadership positions that is most important.

According to McKinsey, companies across all sectors with the most women on their boards of directors significantly and consistently outperform those with no female representation – by 41 per cent in terms of return on equity and by 56 per cent in terms of operating results. Women being in charge of decision making and the decision-making process is increasingly down to the realisation of their capabilities and skills as negotiators and planners than it is to do with government quotas. Business leaders realise this and it should come as no surprise to anyone that governments see this too. Indeed, it was the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama who noted that, “When women succeed, nations are more safe, secure and prosperous.” This wasn't a campaign slogan to garner votes, but a response, deep into his second term, to a question relating to women's issues from press media.

In addition, Meghan Markle and her fiancé, Harry are in Belfast as I write and as a United Nations women's advocate and an ambassador for Canada's World Vision Clean Water campaign I was drawn into thinking about her previous statements on the importance of empowering women. She stated, “it is neither just nor practical for women's voices, for our voices, to go unheard at the highest levels of decision-making.” Very hard to disagree with that. She, of course, is not alone in that viewpoint. The New York Times columnist, Nicholas Kristoff went a step further in his vision stating, "the most effective way to fight global poverty and to reduce civil conflict, is typically to invest in girls' education and bring women into the formal labour force." Why?

Well, the evidence shows that female leaders typically have more compassion and empathy, and a more open and inclusive negotiation style. This is not, of course, necessarily true of all women -- there are many different leadership styles, however modern ideas of transformative leadership are more in line with qualities women generally share. Leadership styles that are open, collaborative and less hierarchical are proven to encourage participation and create growth in business by allowing more junior members of the team to contribute ideas and energy to the companies worth. The jury is no longer out in relation to this matter. Women in charge are good for business and good for society. It is up to all of us to maintain and continue the progress already made to make parity in this regard universal.

:: Roseann Kelly (roseann@ is chief executive of Women in Business, the largest and fastest growing business network for female entrepreneurs and senior women in management in Northern Ireland, with 2,500 members spread throughout all industry sectors. Follow Women in Business NI on Facebook at or on Twitter @wibni.

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